Chuck Palahniuk Hung Out with 'Separatists of Every Stripe' for New Novel
"So many generations have been raised on bird flu, swine flu, Y2K, Ebola, housing collapse, ozone holes, and peak oil panics that we wouldn't know how to live if we weren't constantly expecting our annihilation."
Photo of Chuck Palahniuk, left, via Getty Images
A sprawling burial pit is under construction near the National Mall slated to be stuffed with the corpses of our country’s surplus young men who, before they can stir up trouble at home, will be sent off to fight in the next Middle Eastern war. Yet a cadre of America’s misbegotten youth have another plan. After a mass slaughter eviscerating democracy as we know it, the nation will be divided into three states: Caucasia for whites, Blacktopia for African Americans, and Gayasia—well you get the idea. What could go wrong? Turns out a lot.
If Adjustment Day’s premise sounds like something Richard Spencer or someone of his ilk might dream up, you aren’t far off. The Fight Club author tells me he hung out with all manner of extremist sects while completing the novel, which hits the shelves May 1. In it, Palahniuk toys with our cultural dividing lines—race, class, sexuality—and all the fears, myths, and conspiracies that come along with them. The result is a novel that straddles both the horrific and the absurd, kind of like present-day America, though from our conversation the sense I got from Palahniuk is he’d like us to get over ourselves. And into more Pornhub.
VICE: So what prompted you to write a comedy about genocide in America? I take it you aren't worried about offending people.
Chuck Palahniuk: Don't believe all the jacket copy you read. If [George] Orwell's 1984 premiered nowadays the dust jacket would probably promise, "A zany sex romp that takes place right under the prudish nose of Big Brother!" No, what I've penned is a searing indictment of our politically charged times—but with a couple laughs to offer the reader respite from the constant stomping of boots on the human face, forever. Frankly, Orwell could've used similar comic relief.
What have you been up to these past four years in between now and your previous novel? Was Adjustment Day informed by recent events, the 2016 presidential election and its ongoing aftermath?
Have you heard of Pornhub? Golly, that site can eat up your whole lifetime. Was there an election? What year is this? Why does my computer run so slow now? Did you know that draconian condom laws are driving all the major porn studios to little 'ol Portland, Oregon? Hereabouts is like Porn Star Central.
I’m curious if you’d have anything to say about what President Trump, this ghastly and farcical figure with the world at his fingertips, represents about the American psyche.
It's sweet how my generation had Reagan and Thatcher to protest, and now the youngsters have Trump and Putin. I await the new incarnation of Frankie Goes to Hollywood. But am dreading the return of pleated pants.
What is it like to write horror-adjacent fiction when every day is a kind of waking nightmare?
A waking nightmare? Hyperbolic, much? Not to name drop, but I talked to Max Brooks [author of World War Z] about this waking nightmare. He says that so many generations have been raised on bird flu, swine flu, Y2K, Ebola, housing collapse, ozone holes, and peak oil panics that we wouldn't know how to live if we weren't constantly expecting our annihilation. In effect, "waking nightmare" is the new normal. Therein lies the comfort of Pornhub: You always know how it's going to end.
You seem to be pointing to something deep within us that has been around long before Trump, even though he is an outlandish representative of, to borrow a phrase from Adjustment Day, the “pornography of power.”
Enough about Trump. We're supposed to foisting my new book on an innocent populace. Take a page from [Michel] Foucault and remember that the more you protest and resist a thing the more power you bestow upon it. Escape lies in presenting a better option. Did you notice I name dropped again?
At times, reading this book, I was reminded of Terry Southern, also Kurt Vonnegut whom you mention in the novel, were they some of your influences? What other material did you draw on that maybe readers won’t immediately pick up on?
For structure, I studied The Grapes of Wrath and The Martian Chronicles. Did you know that Bradbury patterned his book after Steinbeck's? Well, now I've mimicked them both. And I became dissatisfied with classic American fiction that ends on a defeatist note. Why can't Jay Gatsby leap from the swimming pool, grab the gun, and shoot Tom Buchanan? Why can't the Joad family motor to California and get rich cooking meth? That's the secret of Ayn Rand's long, long, long, overly long novels—the protagonist kicks ass and wins. So a Steinbeck beginning with an Ayn Rand end. Then, straight back to Pornhub.
Is it fair to interpret Adjustment Day as a kind of inverted Fight Club? Both novels deal with destroying society. In some ways, the aims of the revolutionaries in each book overlap.
Fight Club was about empowering the individual and setting him on a path toward his personal vision. And that requires destroying the existent powerless person. Adjustment Day is about presenting a pattern for gathering men together. My books are always about the individual. The triumph of the individual man or woman.
The media has really struggled over how to cover the “alt-right.” On the one hand, its adherents are ridiculous; on the other, the implications of their political program are despicable. Was it your intent to tease out these contradictions, taking them to the extreme?
To write the book, I hung out with separatists of every stripe. From the racial realists to the Hotep Nation to the [Louis] Farrakhan people—being the Fight Club guy opens lots of doors—and I wanted to grant a little wish fulfillment to every group. That's my mission in this life, to make dreams come true.
You’ve had a bit of an influence on the “alt-right,” crowd, not to mention the men’s rights folk. I’m guessing these are not affiliations you intended your work to have.
Don't overlook the Antifa's college-based Fight Clubs, where they train one another to punch Nazis. I am beloved by both the right and the left. My strategy for world domination is right on schedule.
What's been the most surprising encounter with a cultural meme from your writing so far? The most frightening?
I love how "snowflake" has replaced "faggot" as the ultimate put-down. Foucault would be proud of me. Score one for our team. Nothing frightening, yet.
You’ve released a couple of coloring books recently. Usually, people use those to relax not to feel their pulse quicken. What drew you to the genre?
Whether it's comics or coloring books, I love to work with artists. Who knew the collaborative process was so fun? After a couple decades of lone wolf keyboarding it's such a joy to partner with visually creative types.
Do you have any pranks or parties in store to promote Adjustment Day like you have for past novels?
My big plan was to pose for a photo, holding the bloody severed head of Kathy Griffith, but my publisher put the kibosh on that idea. Some people have no imagination.
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